Atalanta Avventura: Part 12 – Champions League Push

The mid-way point of the 2022/23 season saw in a World Cup in December, as France defended their crown in Qatar. Heading back to domestic issues, the young Atalanta boys were struggling compared to previous seasons, down in 7th place in Serie A.

Another major outgoing came the next month, as club captain Dan-Axel Zagadou departed for Paris Saint-Germain for a whopping £43 million. He’d been the subject of transfer bids from many teams for over a year, getting unhappy at the club and requesting a transfer several times. And we did well to negotiate up from original derisory bids of as low as £7 million.

We replaced him with the loan signing of another interesting young player Stefan McKendry from Standard Liege, and signed Dries Mertens on a free transfer so he could become a youth coach when he retired at the end of the season. He went straight into our Under 20s squad and wouldn’t play a single game for the club.

The league campaign, bizarrely, picked back up again on New Year’s Eve, and we returned in fine form with a 5-1 battering of Fiorentina – in which Cosimo Marco Da Graca continued a fine start to the season with four goals.

That was the launchpad for a 12-game unbeaten run in Serie A, including another goalfest with a 5-2 win at Crotone, a 1-1 draw at Juventus thanks to an equaliser by Alessandro Cortinovis, who’s formed an exciting midfield partnership with fellow Atalanta academy graduates Filippo Melegoni and Dejan Kulusevski.

But the good form was brought crashing down to earth with consecutive away defeats to AS Roma and AC Milan, against whom we fought back to lead 2-1 through Antonio Marin and Da Graca only for Real Madrid loanee Vinicius Junior to steal the show with two late goals.

Champions League progress

Qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League had been secured and in the first round we once again drew Tottenham Hotspur – the third time this has happened in our three Champions League campaigns. And we yet again came out victorious, following up a 2-1 home first-leg win through goals from Cortinovis and Da Graca with a 2-2 draw in London with the same two players scoring again.

That set up a quarter-final against a strong Monaco side, who we did well to hold to a 1-0 defeat in the away leg but could only draw 2-2 at home – going two down inside 13 minutes, then a Da Graca double pulling us level. It was a good effort, but we were out of the Champions League for another season.

Serie A conclusion

That turned full focus to the league, as we exited the Italian Cup quarter-finals after I put a second string side out against a full strength Napoli. We picked up a couple of wins over Novara and Fiorentina that pulled us up to fifth in the league, amid a real battle for the final two places – with Milan and Inter Milan well clear in a title race.

Our hopes were dealt a major blow when the in-form Marin picked up an injury, and we struggled to a 2-2 draw at home to Napoli in which stand-ins Jochen Schulz and Ivaylo Alexsandrov scored. But then three consecutive wins – 2-0, 3-0, 4-0 – saw us put up a fight and keep the pressure on third-placed Juventus.

A narrow 2-1 home defeat to Inter was a setback, as were consecutive draws at Chievo then at home to Milan – in which Marin returned to score. But we finished the season with a good 3-1 win at Salernitana with goals from Frederic Pereira and, predictably, Marin and Da Graca.

That secured a third-place finish narrowly ahead of Napoli, Fiorentina and Juventus – who slipped down to sixth on the final day. Inter won the league on the final day of the season, with a 2-1 win at city and stadium sharing rivals Milan.

serie a 2023

The impressive Marin finished the season as the league’s top scorer with 24 goals, ahead of Da Graca’s haul of 22. Marin also had the league’s highest average rating of 7.71 and the most Man of the Match awards with 11 – both of which were league records.

 

player overview 2023

Da Graca also ended the season as the second best striker in the Champions League, only behind Gabriel Jesus who topped the scoring charts with 10 goals.

champs cup awards 2023

There was more exciting news at the end of the season as, after a number of requests to expand our 27,000 capacity ground, the Atalanta board announced plans to build a new stadium. When and the size of which is, as yet, unknown.

Join us next time as we look to build on an impressive conclusion to the league campaign and as Serie A returns to normal following the World Cup campaign.

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